In this article, I argue that the word ‘resource’ can be used to denote what is considered to be of high value in a given society. These values may relate either to society as a whole or to its parts. In the former case, resources often acquire the characteristics of the sacred as identified by Émile Durkheim and others. It is here argued that the Durkheimian approach captures the symbolic dimension of the collective sacred but ignores the social effects of people’s attempts to obtain access to the highest value. To understand how concrete social forms evolve, one may rather turn to the writings of Arthur Maurice Hocart. His approach draws our attention to values (of ‘life’) and the social processes deriving from people’s engagement with the sacred. To illustrate this approach, an ethnographic example from Odisha, India is provided.
Sacred Resources and the Quest for 'Life'
Resources and Socio-cosmic Fields in Odisha, India
In anthropology, resources are commonly defined in terms of neo-classical theories of action. In order to widen this anthropological definition, a distinction between two ‘fields’ is introduced in this article: the ‘social field’ and the ‘cosmic field’. It is argued that both fields may be completely separate and express a pluralistic configuration of values, or they may form a more or less monistic field. These ideas are applied to a conflict about bauxite-rich mountains in Odisha, India, in which those involved have quite different concepts of resources. It is argued that politicians and mining companies, as well as their national and international opponents, separate and even oppose the social and the cosmic fields on the basis of conflicting values. In contrast, it is argued that for the local people named Dongria Kond, the mining companies endanger a cultural system of exchange and provisioning that maintains an undifferentiated socio-cosmic field based on the value of life-giving ‘wealth’.